MS. REBECCA SHEIR
So it's one thing to have a second home at the beach or anywhere else. But for many people, it's a far off dream just to have a first home. An estimated 12,000 homeless people live throughout the Metropolitan Washington region. Roughly six percent of them are veterans of the U.S. military. Nationally, veterans make up about 20 percent of the homeless population. And with congress divided over funding for veterans, the problem threatens to grow. Lauren Hodges visited a homeless shelter in Alexandria, Va. And brings us this story.
MS. LAUREN HODGES
It's dinner time at Carpenters Shelter for the Homeless in Old Towne Alexandria. Roderick Alston, a 38-year-old Navy veteran arrives just in time for supper. Alston lived on the streets for four years.
MR. RODERICK ALSTON
I've just been -- just been walking. Sleep here, sleep there.
Prior to that, he served in the Navy from 1991 to 1995. He says it affected him deeply.
And a lot of things you see, drills, planes, war, so I mean, but I got a lot of it, it may...
By his fourth year of service, he says, he had seen enough injury and death.
And I was going to reenlist, but so much had went on that I really just wanted to get out.
So he returned home to Washington, D.C., but found it hard to adjust despite being raised in the area.
I worked with Metro for a couple years. I had a lot of ups and downs.
Which eventually lead to unemployment. And for Alston and countless other veterans, no job means no benefits. Veterans can receive a VASH voucher which stands for Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing. But as Lissette Bishon executive director of Carpenters Shelter points out, the voucher comes with requirements.
MS. LISSETTE BISHON
You have to be employed. If you're unemployed, you can't access a VASH, which means that you're on the street.
Alston looked for two months before landing a job. For others in the shelter, the search takes much longer. That government request can force people back onto the streets before they receive adequate help.
That's, you know, we're being pushed to get people out of the shelter within 30 days. You can't do squat with 30 days.
She and Barker, a senior legislative associate at D.C.'s VFW or Veterans of Foreign Wars says it can be tough to get a voucher because the application process involves jumping through so many hoops.
There's already 11,000 that are authorized that haven't been used.
And not only that, but in order for President Obama to keep his election time promise of putting a roof over every veterans head...
The administration is asking for is 10,000 more.
But budget battles on Capitol Hill complicate the matter, says Barker. As does the GOP's push to eliminate 10,000 of those available vouchers that haven't yet been used, though the Obama administration is fighting that.
The administration -- they want to eliminate chronic homelessness among veterans, VASH voucher is the most flexible option that's -- the VA has.
Barker says, another obstacle to getting a voucher stems from the difficulties veterans often experience when they return home.
A lot of it is, post traumatic stress, undiagnosed traumatic brain injury, it's the hardships of being overseas for extended periods of time.
And that can make it difficult to find or keep employment. Not only that, but...
The government used to have policies that required completion of a drug abuse counseling course before they could receive transitional housing.
That course is no longer mandatory. But obstacles still exist for homeless veterans trying to leave a life on the streets.
And a lot of people who are chronically homeless are afraid of the big life change that would be to go through the counseling and to move back into their own permanent housing.
For Roderick Alston, the decision to make a change followed a rather traumatic incident. He and a friend were walking around Old Towne and...
He was hit on Duke Street.
The incident really brought home for Alston, how dangerous life on the streets can be.
It was just time to get myself back together. I figure, if I got on track, I could help others. I talk to a lot of young kids out here. And I tell them, you know, I always thought it was too late for me to get back together and it wasn't. I think now I know, it's never too late. It's never too late.
As Alston walks down the hall to attend a money management course, children and their families retreat to their rooms to prepare for another day. For them, this is home but just for now. Tomorrow the governments 30 day deadline will be even closer. And the solution for homelessness will still be out of reach. I'm Lauren Hodges.
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